Christmas Presents and Garbage Year after Year

PC260089Christmas Morning last year, when I opened the Lego Star Wars ship that Conner insisted was not under the tree, he declared a halt to all present opening while he built it.

Relatives brought presents over and insisted that he open them, but he just kept on building. This shook my Christmas morning tradition to its core. He was doing it wrong... Or was he?

He was so happy that he simply refused to open more presents. He was playing and he didn't want more stuff... He just wanted to play... I love that boy's focus.

I always thought our kids were getting too much stuff.  Look under the tree on Christmas morning and there's an entire toy store wrapped in colorful paper thanks to the combined efforts of our extended family.  But when Conner broke the present opening spell it really hit me. Our kids get too much stuff and it's not good for them.

With all the poverty in the world, too many presents probably seems like a ridiculous thing to be concerned about, but if I teach my kids they need more and more stuff to be happy I'm pretty sure I'm doing them a big disservice.

More isn't necessarily better. More does 3 things:
  1. Makes for a wild rush of fun present opening  - [fun but not sustainable fun. It last as long as the wrapping paper does.]
  2. Sets the kids expectations that they need new stuff to be happy (I've heard Alex tell me this) while actually making them unhappy. - [not only wrong, but backwards. See my On Happieness and Presents post.]
  3. Generates a lot of stuff that goes in landfills 
In 2008 I was so surprised by the amount of garbage that I took this picture on the pickup day after Christmas. I was holding the camera over my head so the bings look smaller than they are. The big green bin (~5 feet hight) was completely full of trash. There are 3 regular size bins full of recycling, with a 40 gallon black plastic bag of garbage between them and 3 large boxes of cardboard.

I'm embarrassed by the amount of waste that passed through our house in that 1 week.

Christmas Garbage 2008

2009 was a big change. The big green garbage bin on the left has only one 13 gallon trash bag in it. The rest is recycling.

Christmas Garbage 2009

The reduction in garbage is because we started composting food scraps, we can now recycle all plastics 1 - 7, and the kids presents are mostly getting smaller (legos instead of sit on toddler bikes.) Still it's a lot of waste for 1 week.

After 2008 Christine and I asked our families to scale back on the gift giving and, to a degree, we all did.  But leading up the the holidays there's this weird dichotomy of (everyone in our extended family including me) wanting to give our kids lots of presents and not wanting to over do it at the same time.  Year after year we have erred on the side of lots of presents because it's so easy to get wrapped up in the idea that more is better.

I think this year will be different. At least for gifts from Christine and me. Learning from Conner we picked out a few gifts we know the kids will like and then stopped present purchasing. The theory is with less stuff we'll have more time to enjoy what we do have. And if we struggle, Conner can show us how to make a game out of just about anything.

I'm a grateful that we have the ability to spoil our kids but one of the best gifts we can give them is to teach them how to be happy without constantly needing more stuff.

Stay tuned in January for the 2010 Christmas garbage picture. 

Update January 10th 2011

So there it is. After Christmas, we filled the garbage can and three cans full of recycling. The same three cans as previous years, but without the extra boxes. It's an improvement.

Goodbye Jerry

Christine and I adopted Jerry, our anxious cat, 8 years ago. We did this based on the theory that a second cat would be a good companion for Tom who was home alone most of the day. I remember the adoption pretty clearly. We went there in search of an orange cat and Christine fell in love with Jerry, this comically small, black cat who was afraid of everything. Even air seemed to scare him.

Jerry on the Cat Stand

Jerry was, by anyone's measure, a nervous cat. The adoption people said it had something to do with him being taken away from his mother too soon.  Soon enough, our theory of 2 cats keeping each other occupied panned out and he and Tom were thick as thieves.

Tom and Jerry Playing

Jerry was there when Alex was born. Well, not the exact moment, but he was there when we got home. It took a while but they got used to each other.


Jerry's nervous nature meant he hid in the basement when anyone visited. Actually, he hid in the basement most of the time; that is with one exception. Jerry loved Christine's parents. I don't know what it was about them but when they visited Jerry's entire demeanor would change and he'd become more friendly. The rest of the time he had Tom.


I know cats aren't pack animals but I think Jerry looked out for Tom. One day about 4 years ago a dog came into our backyard and was harassing Tom. Tom was not fairing well and then Jerry came tearing out of the house. He basically clobbered the dog. I had no idea Jerry could fight, but that dog went running and Jerry took off after him faster than I've ever seen him run.  Jerry returned 10 minutes later without a scratch and we never saw that dog again.

Tom and Jerry

Even as they got older Jerry tended to stick near Tom when he wasn't hiding in the basement.


Jerry's body gave out today. He was in really bad shape all week. It took the doctor a few days to figure out he wasn't going to get better, but it was pretty clear to us he was very sick. Last night I put him on my lap and he purred for hours.  Today Christine built him a fire to keep him warm before I took him to the vet.  When I went down to get him he was just lying there purring. I think he really liked the fire.

I'm going to miss Jerry, but I think his death is going to be even harder on the kids. They've been paying more attention to the cats lately. Alex and Conner are very proud of their ability to keep Jerry calm enough to pet him. Tonight the boys couldn't sleep, so we looked at some of these pictures and told stories about Jerry. We had lots of laughs.

Jerry was a good cat, a good friend and part of our family. We all miss him.

Jerry's Seat

Allison Conducts the Tuba Christmas Orchestra

Allison Conducts The Christmas Tuba ConcertAllison made her conducting debut at the annual Tuba Christmas Concert yesterday in Ayer, MA.

The concert is a Russell favorite because it features an all tuba orchestra which, in my opinion, is the coolest band makeup in the history of bands. Towards the end of the concert they asked if any kids wanted to guest conduct and Allison decided to go for it without any prompting from me.

She took my hand and together we walked onto the stage.  Allison didn't appear to mind the audience, but seemed a little nervous in the presence of the orchestra. Tuba players are usually pretty big guys and to a 3 year old girl I'm sure they seemed enormous. Even so, she seemed happy as the conductor gave her a quick lesson in leading the orchestra.

Conducting Lesson

Then with a wave of her wand, the orchestra was off playing an up tempo "We Wish You a Merry Christmas!"

Allison Conducts Tubas

I was, and still am, beside myself with pride. Not only was she brave enough to get up in front of a crowd and conduct a bunch of burly tuba players, but she handled them with grace and seemed to enjoy the experience.

On the way home that night she fell asleep. As I carried her from the car to her bed she woke for a moment and quietly asked "Daddy, can I conduct again next year?" I said "Yes sweetie." Then she put her head back on my shoulder and with an even softer "Thanks Daddy" she went back to sleep.